Stock futures advance, Barnes & Noble up early

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock index futures rose on Monday, suggesting the recent rally for equities remains intact in spite of concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve could curtail its stimulus sooner than many expected.

* Stocks have been strong performers so far this year, with the S&P 500 jumping 6.2 percent in 2013. Pullbacks have generally been slight, with investors using any dip as a buying opportunity. While the S&P fell last week, the decline was a slight 0.3 percent and it was the first weekly drop after a seven-week streak of gains.

* The gains have come on strong corporate earnings, as well as a backdrop of stimulus from the Federal Reserve. Last week's decline came when some Fed officials seemed to suggest the stimulus may be curtailed faster than many expected, though subsequent comments seemed to allay those concerns.

* Another test for equities will come with the looming debate over massive U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement over spending and taxes. On Sunday, the White House issued more dire warnings about the harm the cuts are expected to do to the economy if enacted.

* More government-related uncertainty came from Italy, where a close election left questions about how the country would handle its three-year debt crisis. Last year, inconclusive Greek elections sparked a protracted selloff and a period of uncertainty in U.S. equity markets as well.

* Still, European shares <.fteu3> were higher on Monday, rising 0.6 percent after a smooth Italian debt auction.

* S&P 500 futures rose 6.4 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures added 39 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 17.25 points.

* In company news, the Wall Street Journal reported that Barnes & Noble Inc Chairman Leonard Riggio is considering a bid for the company's bookstore business. The stock jumped 18 percent to $16 in premarket trading.

* Lowe's Cos Inc reported earnings that beat expectations, helped by rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Sandy in the United States.

* Other companies scheduled to report quarterly results include Autodesk Inc and FirstEnergy .

* Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

* U.S. stocks closed higher on Friday, boosted by strong results from Hewlett-Packard Co , as well as allayed concerns over Fed policy.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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